Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 13, 2013

2013.01.13 “It Might Not Seem Like Much” – Luke 3: 15 – 17, 21 – 22 – Baptism of the Lord Sunday

Central United Methodist Church

“It Might Not Seem Like Much”

Pastor David L. Haley

Baptism of the Lord

Luke 3: 15 – 17, 21 – 22

January 13th, 2013

 

The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?”

But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house — make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

        After all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized. As he was praying, the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” – Luke 3: 15 – 17, 21 – 22, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions this year?  Have you given up on them or is the dream still alive? I know, it may feel like a month already, but it’s only the second Sunday in January, a time many of us are seeking to carry through on New Year resolutions.

There’s just something about January that inspires hope, like no other month. Janus – for whom January is named – is an ancient Roman god, associated with doorways, beginnings, and transitions. Usually portrayed as two-faced, Janus looks toward both the future and the past.  So that’s appropriate, isn’t it?  If we look into the New Year with hope for change, it’s because most of us also look to the past, knowing that there’s something in our lives that’s not right or needs change. Thus, the resolutions we make at the beginning of a new year.

One of the areas we often make the most resolutions is in regard to our bodies. The first day I went back to the Leaning Tower YMCA after the holidays, I walked in a little later than my usual time, and there must have been 40 people there.  Who are all these people? (Hint: it’s already begun to return to normal.)

Diets are always popular in January, especially after the feasting over the holidays. One of my friends began a diet as a new year’s resolution, but I don’t know if it’s going to last; just last week she announced she was officially switching to the Krispy Kreme diet.

What you don’t get a lot of are people set on real change, and, say, sign up for a course of counseling, or who join a small group.  Or even better, people intent on spiritual change, who realize that that is where all real, lasting change begins: not from the outside in, but from the inside out. Anybody signed up for fasting, a silent retreat, shaving their head, circumcision, or even baptism? All these are outward physical changes symbolic of deeper spiritual change, within.  Anybody, in this New Year?

Now I know it wasn’t January in today’s Gospel, at least there is no indication it was, but do you ever wonder what did it for Jesus? Last week – on Epiphany Sunday, we left him somewhere around two years old. Two weeks before that, on Holy Family Sunday, he was a 12 year old, left at the Temple in Jerusalem, seeking to be about his Father’s business. What happened between then and now, when somewhere around the age of 30, Jesus shows up at the Jordan to be baptized by John, no one knows. I’m fairly sure it wasn’t a New Years resolution, but I don’t know what it was, the Gospels do not say.

Did he wake up one morning tired of his dad’s carpenter shop, realizing somehow that making one more table was not really what his life was supposed to be about? Was it while drinking a cup of coffee (tea) up on the rooftop, in the quiet of dawn? Did he hear his name called in the Scriptures read in the synagogue, just as we listen to the Scriptures here in church to see if our name will be called?  What it a group of friends heading out to the Jordan where John was preaching, singing “Shall We Gather at the River,” as they invited Jesus to come along? Was it his Mother Mary, who didn’t push her son by enrolling him in the Young Miracle Maker contests in Galilee, but gently nudged him, reminding him, of the memories she treasured in her heart and his heart? Perhaps it was any or all of these influences in Jesus’ life, just as it is such influences in our lives that inspire us to greater things, to what may be our destiny.

The Gospels present Jesus’ arrival at the Jordan in similar but different ways. The Gospel of John has nothing to say about it at all: John is out there preaching and baptizing, and Jesus comes around, but he is never explicitly baptized. Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism, shares no infancy stories, and it’s at his baptism that we first meet Jesus, and where Jesus first sees the vision and hears the voice. In Matthew, at least John recognizes Jesus when he shows up, and shows him a deference we might consider proper: “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!” But Jesus insisted.”

In some ways, Luke – our Gospel not only for today but this year – gives us the most dissatisfying account of all. Luke is a master of understatement, just as he was at Jesus’ birth: “While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn.  She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.” (Luke 2: 6–7) Similarly, Luke does the same here: “After all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized.” Jesus had to stand in line? At the end of the line, at that?

All of us know about lines, most of us hate them, and would do almost anything to avoid them. We know the poorer we are, the longer the line tends to be. Anybody here ever been for treatment at former Cook County (now Stroger) Hospital? But it’s not just there: some Post Offices can be nightmares, can’t they? The DMV (Dept. of Motor Vehicles) can be interesting. What’s the worst? If you’ve flown recently, as over the holidays, you know: the TSA security line at the airport. The word is not to get behind seniors with walkers, parents with young children, or families with multiple carry-ons. Best of all are Asian business men, who travel light and wear sensible, slip-on/slip-off shoes.

The worst experience I’ve had in recent memory was in Madrid, two years ago. The night before we arrived there was a snowstorm which blanketed almost all of Spain, if you can imagine that. Madrid Barajas Airport was a disaster; lines were a couple hundred people long, heading toward a handful of agents, who conversed with each passenger like they were long lost family and would even occasionally shut down their desk and leave, because it was their coffee break. At one point we waited in line 45 minutes, only to miss our plane because it took too long and we had to go back and start all over. Even the security agents were positively empathetic. Finally, when our in laws decided they needed to use wheel chairs it was a good thing, because – surprise – with a person in a wheel chair you got wheeled to the front of the line.  If Jesus had stood in such a line out at the Jordan in order to get baptized and begin his ministry, believe me, he’d likely have been the World’s Greatest Carpenter.

As for out there at the Jordan, in which line would Jesus have stood?  Luke says there were crowds of people. Some of them were tax collectors, not very popular with the people. If you’d been Jesus would you have wanted to stand in that line? There were soldiers, not soldiers like our soldiers, but mercenaries who barely got paid, and extort and bullied for the rest. I can’t see Jesus in that line.  There were also religious leaders who went out to hear John, Pharisees and Sadducees; at least in that line there would likely have been some interesting conversations.

You’d think John would have said, “Look, Master, this line thing’s not for you. Why don’t you wait over there, and after I get all these people baptized, we’ll arrange a private service for you that’s much more appropriate and dignified.” But evidently John didn’t offer that. According to Luke, Jesus stood in line with all the rest of miserable misguided humanity, and was baptized just like everybody else, seeking God’s new beginning in his life.  What does that say about him?

According to Luke, it was then that it happened. At the time it might not have seemed like much; it’s not even clear whether anybody else even knew what had even happened. Only Luke tells us that it occurred “while Jesus was praying, the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”

It was an epic day in the life of Jesus, the day he was given both an identity and a destiny. In fact, it had such an impact, Jesus commanded us to continue the ritual, and we’ve been offering baptism for new Christians ever since.

Even as we do it now, it may not seem like much.  Sometimes it’s an adult who has decided they want to follow Jesus, and have never been baptized. The day comes, and they stand up here for something which seems flatly ridiculous, and the first real sign of anything happening might not be the water that runs from their head, but the tear that trickles down out of their eye.  It may not seem like much, but something is happening.

Most often, it is for one of our children.  Parents come forward with a tiny little baby, make promises on their behalf, and the child is baptized. At the time they do not understand it (who understands it), but believe that God keeps God’s promises, and given the nurturing of that seed in Christian worship and nurture and fellowship, that child will grow up to offer to God a lifetime of Christian service. It may not seem like much, but it means more than we can ever know.  It did for Jesus, and it does for us.

Does it work?  Well, I can only share with you my experience.  What I have here is my baptismal gown, which my mother gave to me. Typical of many men, not being the most sentimental of people nor very good at storage either, it’s not in very good shape, and in fact may be beyond restoration. Just like the water that accompanied it – now long dried – it’s only a secondary reminder of the day my parents offered me to God, as a follower of Jesus Christ.  And, here I am, serving him and serving you in his name, 60 years later.

It may not seem like much, but it means more than words can express.  Remember your baptism, and be thankful!

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